This recording encapsulates so much of the cultural and technological state of modern Pakistan.
I have alluded over the last few weeks to the decline of rock music as a genre in Pakistani pop. Certainly some of that change is linked to a shift in aesthetic preferences. Trends are essential in creative output because they allow new audiences to identify with new style, in opposition to what came before it. This is another way of realizing that stylistic change is perhaps a given in all popular art. But which direction it changes towards is not predetermined, and is in fact a function of a number of external factors. Perhaps because of my own training and work, it is hard for me to not see the impact of technology on this change in musical style.
Where rock music requires the guitars, drums, studios and large spaces to play concerts, this new R&B style pop needs only a half-decent microphone and a laptop. From what I can tell a significant portion of today’s electronic music in Pakistan is made on MacBooks (many times ones not far from conking out). The mechanism of recording this music is a vocal demo transmitted to a producer who then builds the entire musical texture of the track around it, with the final version of the recording completed in a few iterations of this exchange.
Because the atoms of this music are not always physical instruments, but predominantly electronic sounds and samples, the texture of every song can vary drastically. This allows Hasan Raheem to produce Joona (which has a prominent, very intentional rhythm guitar riff on top of the electronic beat), and then follow that up with Paisa, which is darker and more antagonistic without being unfriendly. The differing styles of producers Abdullah Kasumbi and Talal Qureshi are visible in the textures of both songs.
In fact the title of producer is a bit of a misnomer in this age. In the age of rock music (around which Coke Studio and other music shows are based), the producer is a conductor of the band. They are more akin to an editor for writers, prodding the creative output to a better direction. At the end, producers in the rock paradigm attach a sonic signature in terms of how various tracks are mixed and colored, and sound relative to each other. Producers of this new realm, like Kasumbi and Qureshi, do much more. They not only create the sonic color of the track, but they create the entire musical structure. They choose the instruments, build the melodies, arrange it all together. In fact the only thing they are perhaps not doing is the main vocal melody around which the song is built. In a sense if you were to think of a rock band where the vocalist writes the lyrics and the main vocal melody, Kasumbi and Qureshi represent the entire rest of the band. Abdullah Siddiqui operates the same way, and increasingly producers in the old realm as well, such as Xulfi on the latest PSL Anthem.
That this transition has occurred in a decade where access to the internet, and to fixed broadband, has doubled in Pakistan, does not feel like a coincidence. In fact I think it is centrally linked to internet access that more music is being produced across geographical boundaries (Qureshi and Raheem are in Dubai and Karachi respectively).